III Applications of Corporate Responsibility–Contemporary Issues

Applications of Corporate

Responsibility -

Contemporary Issues

Who’s Responsible for the Supply Chain? Iris Marion Young’s Social Connection Model

The next three shorter chapters apply the theory of corporate responsibility and the social liberal conception of the corporation to contemporary issues of the supply chain, financial and digital firms, as well as to climate change. The focus is to clarify how the social liberal corporation is to respond to these issues. My method of applying the philosophical theory of corporate responsibility to these issues follows the general outline of Rawlsian reflective equilibrium (Rawls 1971/1999). Hence, I aim at integrating concerns based on the weight of moral intuitions, theories, and principles as well as empirical evidence as provided by scientific theory. The idea, therefore, is not to apply philosophical theory top down but rather to seek coherence among the best materials available. I am not going to follow any strict procedure but will seek to take the theory of the social liberal corporation, as it was spelled out in Chapters 6 and 7 on corporate citizenship and political CSR, and apply it in the context of contemporary issues. I have argued that the social liberal corporation is emerging in current academic literature on CSR and that it is superior to the competing theories of market liberalism, conservative virtue ethics, and critical approaches in terms of providing better answers to current challenges in a globalized world. It acknowledges that the rule of law is not always a given or sufficient to provide helpful answers. It acknowledges that the state might fail to deliver on pivotal goods such as basic rights, and it also acknowledges that corporations in general do have a moral responsibility to solve problems in society at large. For anyone who believes that corporations should carry a responsibility besides complying with the law, the idea of the social liberal corporation is a good place to start. Hence, let us start with a look at how it fares with regard to problems in the supply chain.

Historically, stories of child labour and poor working conditions at the bottom of the supply chain have given rise to demands for more responsible behaviour on the part of corporations. The rise of CSR is parallel to the rise in media reporting about the corporate scandal of hiding horrible working conditions in the supply chain. In particular, child labour has been a critical issue. Currently, the issue of slavery in the supply chain has become a key topic for corporations to address (Crane 2013).

However, to what extent can the corporation be responsible for human rights violations in its supply chain? Developments since the 1990s show that corporations have been increasingly assigned responsibility for their supply chains by the media and NGOs (Schrempf-Stirling & Palazzo 2016). Iris Marion Young made a significant contribution to addressing this issue with her writings on the social connection model about how to distribute responsibility for poor working conditions in the supply chain, notably issues pervading the sweatshop debate (2006, 2011). As seen in Chapter 7 on political CSR and the adoption of Young’s model, it is no longer enough to limit moral responsibility in the supply chain to an individualist, backward-looking legal type of responsibility, that is, what Young calls the liability model of responsibility. Now, to respond to harms done in the global supply chain, we need a forward-looking and political kind of shared responsibility to tackle structural injustice. Not only corporations, but also individual consumers who, for instance, buy a T-shirt produced in Bangladesh, become responsible for preventing future harms and rights violations in the production process. Thus, responsibility entails a duty to promote political awareness of bad working conditions in the far-flung worksites of supply chains, and then act collectively to prevent further harms in the future. Political CSR adopted Young’s social connection model in its argument for why corporate moral responsibility has become a political and shared kind of responsibility (Scherer & Palazzo 2011). This rendered the organization vulnerable to external and often unfounded claims of what the corporation should take responsibility for, regardless of the level of its complicity. In fact, as argued in Chapter 7, the social connection model resulted in difficulties in limiting the scope and content of corporate responsibility. In this chapter, I am going to explore the possibility of finding justified limits to the corporate responsibility of the social liberal corporation. To define such limits, I will take up the sweatshop debate and discuss to what extent corporations are responsible for exploitation in faraway sites of production.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >